The Mariners' icon will be the second player in team history to have his number retired.
The Seattle Mariners aren’t waiting for Edgar Martinez to reach the Baseball Hall of Fame, though it’s something they firmly believe will happen within the next two years. Instead, the organization has decided to bend its own stringent guidelines for their current hitting coach and franchise icon to award him with the club’s highest possible honor.
At a news conference on Tuesday afternoon, the Mariners announced they will retire the No. 11 worn by Martinez in a ceremony on Aug. 12 as a part of an entire Edgar Martinez Weekend at Safeco Field. He will become the second player in franchise history to have his number retired. Last season, Ken Griffey Jr. had his number retired following his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The only other number retired by the Mariners was the No. 42 for Jackie Robinson, which was a league-wide decision.
“This ownership group has a very high standard for retiring a number,” Mariners’ team president and chief operating officer Kevin Mather said. “We’ve retired one in 39 years. Today it is my privilege, on behalf of Mariners’ ownership, our board of directors and every member of our organization, to announce that the No. 11 will be retired and displayed at Safeco Field next to Junior’s No. 24 and Jackie Robinson’s No. 42.”
Per the club’s media guide, this is their official guideline for retiring a former player’s number:
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“The Mariners plan to retire uniform numbers only very selectively and subject to substantially higher expectations than those applied to the Mariners Hall of Fame. To be eligible to have one’s number retired, in addition to the criteria outlined above, the former Mariners should have either a) been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and been in a Mariners uniform for at least five years, or b) come close to such election and spent his entire career or a substantial portion of his career with the Mariners. Eligibility shall not commence until after the former player has been voted on once for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which for all practical purposes means six years after retirement.”
Martinez’s hopes for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame seemed bleak in past years, but a major surge in voting has now changed his and the team’s perspective. After appearing on 58.6 percent of the ballots in 2017, there is a belief that Martinez will reach the needed 75 percent necessary for induction within his final two years on the ballot. Mather pushed for the club to override its policy with a vote from its board of directors.
“It was a conversation we’ve had and then when the vote came out, it was a relatively quick call,” he said. “Our board of directors had to approve it. But with just under 59 percent, we feel he’s well on his way to induction. It was a relatively easy conversation once the vote came out.”
Could this help his induction chances?
“I do think it will,” Mather said. “I had that debate with our board. Our standard for number retirement is so high – and they all said, ‘we want it that high.’ But I said, ‘well, it would be helpful if a voter could say, well they retired his number so let’s take another look at it.”
Martinez was aware of the club’s number retirement procedure and had no idea what was transpiring in the front office.
“I was surprised,” Martinez said. “I knew the Mariners had these policies about retiring numbers and I didn’t expect this. It was a surprise and a very generous act. For that, I thank the Mariners organization. I thank everyone that had something to do with this decision.”
With his wife, Holli, and his three children watching nearby, and former teammate Jay Buhner standing near them, Martinez maintained his composure during the news conference though his voice wavered with emotion on a few occasions. Talking about himself or his accomplishments has never been something he enjoyed.
“This is an incredible honor for me and my family,” he said. “This is a gift that we will share forever. I’d also like to thank my family. There’s a lot of sacrifices that goes along in a career in baseball. There’s a lot of people along the way that helped to make a player better — my managers and coaches. Obviously, Lou Piniella, through the years, I learned so much from him and he made me better. Players like Junior, Jay Buhner, who is here, Randy Johnson, players like that also made me better. And lastly, the greatest fans in baseball, the Mariners’ fans, gave me the motivation and also helped me have the drive and helped me through my whole career. They welcomed to me to this city and I’ve always had great support from the fans.”
Technically, the No. 11 hasn’t been worn since Martinez retired after the 2004 season. It returned when Martinez took over as hitting coach midway through the 2015 season. The significance of that number grew on Martinez as he blossomed into one of the best right-handed hitters of his era, spending all 18 years of his MLB career with the Mariners while posting a lifetime .312 batting average, .418 on-base percentage and a .515 slugging percentage (.933 on-base plus slugging percentage) and winning a pair of batting titles (1992, 1995).
“At the beginning when I came to the team, I know I had a very high number, I think it was 84,” Martinez said of that first spring. “At the beginning, it didn’t have any special meaning. It was just one that was available. I guess it was the better looking number that was available.”
Now he will see that number next to Griffey and Robinson in the Safeco Field outfield.
“It will be special,” Martinez said. “That’s amazing. It’s something I would have never expected looking back at my career. It will be a reminder of how lucky I am to be able to play this game.”
Besides the impressive career numbers, Martinez was similarly honored for his achievements on the field, earning seven All-Star appearances, five Silver Slugger awards, and five Outstanding Designated Hitter Awards, which was later named after him following his retirement.
“Edgar Martinez is the string that binds together our franchise history,” Mather said. “As we embark on our 40th anniversary season in 2017, Edgar has been in a Mariners’ Major League uniform for 20 of those seasons, all proudly wearing no. 11, and has been a part of our organization for 36 years. He has worn a Seattle uniform in parts of four decades (the 80s, 90s, 2000s and the 2010s), and today’s announcement will assure that his number will be proudly displayed in Safeco Field forever.”
Besides the pending number retirement, Martinez was inducted to the organization’s hall of fame in 2007 and the City of Seattle renamed the stretch of South Atlantic Street that runs parallel to the south side of Safeco Field as Edgar Martinez Drive in 2004. He was also inducted into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame in 2007 for his off the field work.
Here’s the introductory highlight video from the press conference
Here’s the logo designed for the occasion: